TTTT: Greetings from the Road/What to Expect...
Seems like we spent a lot of time in the car. As a kid, we rarely flew anywhere. When we traveled, we drove. WHEN we traveled - which truth be told wasn't that often, but was probably average for a white suburban American middle class family of four such as us. On special occasions, we would venture beyond our state line, my brother and I sharing the back of the vehicle for days in our carefully designated sections. ("Mom!! He put his arm onto my side of the line!!!") We'd get baked by the sun and wish for any reason to stop the car and stretch our legs. I'd hope we'd stumble upon a comic book store. Once we did, and my parents spent the rest of the trip lamenting that I was missing out on the beautiful Colorado scenery in favor of The Silver Surfer. They were right, of course, but for a kid self-weaned on pop culture, how could meandering through mountains compare with action-packed tales of soaring through cosmic spaceways?
Growing up, the car was how I got to see the world. If my dad had ten days of vacation time, he thought nothing of devoting half of it to driving to the destination. To this day, he understands better than I do that it's not just the destination, but also the journey. But at the same time, there was no life-lesson philosophical bent to any of this - the man just liked to drive. He still does. No airplanes. Driving. And if there's a scenic route to be taken, all the better.
Maybe it was hereditary. When I was but a wee lad, we'd travel in tandem with my grandparents, who had a cool, enormous motor home. It took four hours and change to get to the National Park we favored (Alley Springs Camp Ground, Eminence, MO), but my grandpa would decompress the trip into what had to be a six, seven hour voyage. I'd wake up from a nap, and the other grown ups would be murmuring, "Where are we now? Where is he taking us???" Then came the oft-heard phrase: "It's another one of Tudor's Terrible Travel Tours!!!" The huge motor home would snake through obscure country roads, off beaten paths, and into unknown territory before inevitably ending up at some small town ice cream parlor, his secret destination all the while. The vehicles would settle and we'd emerge, our stomachs more than a little knotted and fluttery. "I wanted ice cream", my grandpa would say with small shrug. The irony that the winding-road sickness had nullified our appetites before we ever got there was left behind about eight hairpin turns ago.
The lap of luxury, circa 1979.
My grandpa had installed a special horn on his motor home that would play the STAR WARS theme, loud enough so other vehicles could hear it. Probably something he got at Radio Shack. I badgered my grandma and him to play it constantly. Before we even got to Alley Springs, there's no way they didn't regret on some level getting the thing in the first place. I couldn't get enough. Even then, I was a junkie for filmic wonder, however small the dose. STAR WARS was a gateway drug. (And a powerful gateway drug, it is!)
Nowadays, I still love to travel, but I opt to do it vicariously, through the movies. It's a win-win-win: It suits the budget; no long, ambling time stuck in the car; and I get my cinematic fix. Don't get me wrong, I make a point of taking my own family for actual car rides every now and then. Sometimes, it's to an actual vacation destination: Alley Springs, Tennessee, wherever. But for a lot of the rest of the time, the movies take us wherever, whenever.
As for me, I'm trained as a filmmaker, and still edit video for money, but film writing is where my heart is. My mother, Lord bless her, saw this years ago, and only now am I truly arriving there. (Once again, the parent was right.) This is where my own journey has taken me: I can't not write about film.
And so... Film as travel: It's a worn cliché perhaps; one that I know I'm far from the first to utilize. But over the past seven or so years, Todd Brown has been good enough to let me contribute reviews to ScreenAnarchy. ScreenAnarchy, in the meantime, has grown, and even a volunteer reviewer like myself who's never met most of my site colleagues in person has benefited from it. (I have earned unquestioned legitimacy as a bona fide film critic in my community, and am even a member of my local critic's organization. Not Tomato-metered yet, and I've yet to see penny one, but one thing at a time...!) Now, Todd and company are kind enough to offer me my very own column. (Woot!) This is where you can expect, as often I'm able to post an update, to find my own personal film-centric thoughts, capsule reviews, re-actions, musings, and maybe even humor. If you're game, I hope you share yours as well. (God gave us the Comments section for a reason!)
So, in a twist of the old family phrase, welcome to Tudor's Twitchin' Travel Tours. I will guide us along winding tangential back roads and ambling pathways on the way to Who Knows What. We drive, we don't fly. When we run out of roads... well, we'll see. Together we can help each other understand the world out the window, even as we obsessively geek out over our favorite medium. And there may just be ice cream at the end.
Okay, I've got a decision to make. Every time there's a new movie that the publicists notify us of, I have some variation on the same decision: Do I want to commit to A) seeing, and B) writing about this film? I try to be well rounded in my viewing, and always fair in my coverage. I make a point of never going to a film for the predetermined soul purpose of eviscerating it online. But that said, I understand (although I'm sure there are exceptions) that ScreenAnarchy courts a certain type of film buff, one generally interested in global rarities and cinematic visceral treasures. A discerning reader who, all the same, isn't likely to come here looking for opinions on the latest estrogen-oozing, multiplex, Hollywood rom-com.
Which is why it makes perfect sense to stay home the night they're screening WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING. No review of this film, however insightful and articulate it may prove to be, is ever likely to crack the top five Most Popular list here at ScreenAnarchy, to put it mildly. I get that. Not only do we have every indication that this movie is a bright-yet-flatly lit, pregnant belly-bumping, pandering yuck-fest; we obviously once again have Hollywood treating female audiences as though this is the best they have any right to expect at the movies. I haven't watched the film, but I did watch the trailer, and it is as insulting as ever. It's own little vicarious exercise in birthing pain. ("Gimme the epidural!!!!!")
But still, there's a part of me itching to take this on. What if I'm right? What if this needs to be justly denounced in a way only I can spin it? Or even better, what if I'm wrong?? What if the condescending trailer lied, and the filmgoing community needs to be made aware of this most mis-marketed of gems? (Yeah I know, fat chance. But play along - WHAT IF??)
In any case, my own life experience of being a father to several home birthed children and being married to a highly opinionated and ultra well-educated birthing expert has given me certain credence with the film's topic. I may lack the estrogen, plumbing, and maternal compulsion to obsess over pregnancy that is mandatory for the target demographic of WHAT TO EXPECT..., and I won't touch the source material book with a ten foot pole (in part because my wife, who passionately despises it as though it had murdered her dog, would flip if she caught me doing so) but goodness help me, maybe I can wring a solid piece of reactionary writing out of it. Or, maybe I just want to torture myself. Maybe it would be a better idea to send my wife to the screening, and I'll stay home with the kids. That's if I could do that, and she were willing. Let her earn some ScreenAnarchy writing cred for a change. Readers would probably learn a lot about factual childbirth versus whatever fallacies the film may offer.
But that's not going to happen. I'm talking myself out if it, even as I type. I'm all for nurturing a well-rounded personal filmography - the introspective feminine perspective as well as the balls-out masculine one. THE FUTURE as well as BELLFLOWER. But my gosh, I look at the trailer for WHAT TO EXPECT... that automatically plays on IMDB.com and am horrified. And it's the (gulp!) unabashed "male-centric" trailer. It's not so much pregnant belly bumping, but rather an emasculated sausage party of dim wit dads losing track of their toddlers in the park while they exchange scripted wisecracks about diapers and misery. Each one has spent $900 at Babies R Us on unnecessary baby industry crap: High-end strollers with fan attachments, fancypants baby carriers, etc. And here they come toward the camera in slow motion, to the tune of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way": Four Paul Reisers and a Chris Rock - and the Chris Rock is the actual Chris Rock. (!) They're not just blocking the path, they're blocking my sense of cinematic decency.
No, I can't do it. Feel free to try to change my mind. Call me a hypocrite (for any number of reasons), whatever. But this is a hit I'm not inclined to take. Do not expect me at WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING.
- Jim Tudor